By Neil Patrick Healy
In college football, recruiting is what separates average programs from year-in-year-out title contenders. One key step for a program to recruit efficiently is to secure the commitments from prospects that are in its area. Nevada has had mixed results in this regard and has watched some of the best recruits leave their own backyard to get snatched by rival schools. In the 2015 class alone, two of the best prospects in the area are committed to rival Mountain West programs. Reed High School tight end Parker Houston is committed to San Diego State and Reno High School safety Lukas McKenzie, a former Nevada commit, committed to Fresno State via Twitter last Friday. Here are some noteworthy prospects that got away.
PAUL VASSALLO — LINEBACKER ARIZONA (2010-2011)
A standout linebacker from Bishop Manogue High School, Vassallo actually started at Nevada as a walk-on in 2007 and redshirted his freshman year. After transferring to Sierra College for two years he transferred to the University of Arizona, where he earned All-Pac-10 honorable mention in 2010. He tallied 172 total tackles in his two years for the Wildcats.
BOBBY LEPORI — LEFT TACKLE FRESNO STATE (2005-2008)
Another Bishop Manogue graduate, Lepori was also a Nevada verbal commit, but switched his commitment to Fresno State. Lepori was All-WAC First Team in 2008 and signed a free agent contract with the Minnesota Vikings.
COURTNEY GARDNER — WIDE RECEIVER SIERRA COLLEGE (2010-2011)
What could have been the biggest steal in program history never came to fruition. In terms of pure athletic ability, Gardner is arguably the best northern Nevada has ever seen. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound receiver was a standout basketball player and track star, but was best known for leading the Hug Hawks on the football field with his cousin and former Nevada safety, Duke Williams. Gardner was committed to the Wolf Pack in the 2009 class, but due to academic issues he was forced to enroll in Sierra College for two years. In his second season at Sierra, Gardner compiled 61 catches for 1099 yards and 13 touchdowns. He was garnering attention from some of the biggest programs in the country, with offers from Florida State, Florida, Auburn, Cal, LSU, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Virginia Tech and Washington. After originally committing to Oklahoma, he was deemed ineligible due to more academic issues and he eventually waited until he was eligible to declare for the NFL. After being cut by the Chargers and the Dolphins, he signed with the Orlando Predators of the Arena Football League.
KYLE VAN NOY — LINEBACKER BYU (2010-2013)
In 2008, the McQueen High School state championship team was riddled with Division I prospects, but the star of the show was outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy. Van Noy held offers from Arizona, Arizona State, Boise State, Cal, Colorado, UCLA and Nevada, but ended up committing to BYU. After earning third team All-American honors in 2012 and 2013, Van Noy was rated as the fourth best outside linebacker prospect and selected in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft by the Detroit Lions.
CHRIS CARR — CORNERBACK & KICK RETURNER BOISE STATE (2001-2004)
Another McQueen Lancer, Carr made a name for himself as a lethal kick returner with the Broncos. Going undrafted in 2005, Carr signed a free agent contract with the Oakland Raiders, where he became their all-time leader in kick return yardage with 142 returns for 3,514 yards. He also played for the Titans, Ravens, Vikings, Chargers and Saints and was in the NFL for nine seasons.
DAVID WYMAN — LINEBACKER STANFORD (1982-1986)
Wyman was a part of the once-great Wooster High School powerhouse teams of the ‘80s under legendary coach Joe Sellers. After making All-Pac-10 his senior year with 169 tackles, Wyman was selected in the second round of the 1987 NFL draft by the Seattle Seahawks. He played nine seasons in the NFL (six in Seattle and three with the Denver Broncos).
GLENN CARANO — QUARTERBACK UNLV (1973-1976)
Another Wooster High graduate, Carano is arguably the best football player to come out of Reno. He was a star quarterback coming out of high school and was getting interest from Pac-10 schools and even visited Notre Dame. Former Nevada head coach, then Rebel assistant, Chris Ault pulled off a recruitment miracle by meeting him in the Reno airport after his visit to Notre Dame and convinced him to visit UNLV where Carano gave his commitment. Carano was selected in the second round of the 1977 NFL draft by the Dallas Cowboys, where he played from 1977-1983 and won Super Bowl XII as the backup of future Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach.
How would Nevada’s football future have been shaped if these recruits played out their careers for the Wolf Pack? Well, imagine former Nevada quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick and Cody Fajardo throwing to Gardner along with wide receivers Brandon Wimberly and Rishard Matthews. Carr certainly could have helped the struggling Pack in the early 2000s when Nevada went 19-28 in the four years Carr was at Boise State. Guys like Vassallo and Van Noy no doubt would have made an impact on Nevada’s 90th-ranked defense in 2010 and guys like Carano and Wyman could have been program changers. It’s hard to blame Wyman for going to Stanford, but Carano was snatched by Nevada’s biggest rival. It is yet to be determined if Houston and McKenzie will be stars like some of the names listed here, but Nevada can’t let Mountain West schools pillage talent from its own back yard if it wishes to establish itself as a MWC contender.
Neil Patrick Healy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @NP_Healy.